HOW TO LOSE
“So, what can we do for you?’
The woman in the audience brings her hands together compassionately as she asks me the question; her raised eyebrows are fixed in a delicate balance between pity and genuine concern. It is September 2016, only two months after the failed coup attempt, and I am at a London event for my book Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy. Under the spotlight on the stage I pause for a second to unpack the invisible baggage of the question: the fact that she is seeing me as a needy victim; her confidence in her own country’s immunity from the political malaise that ruined mine; but most of all, even after the Brexit vote, her unshaken assumption that Britain is still in a position to help anyone. Her inability to acknowledge that we are all drowning in the same political insanity provokes me. I finally manage to calibrate this combination of thoughts into a not-so-intimidating response: ‘Well, now I feel like a baby panda waiting to be adopted via a website.’
This is a moment in time when many still believe that Donald Trump cannot be elected, some genuinely hope that the Brexit referendum won’t actually mean Britain leaving the European Union, and the majority of Europeans assume that the new leaders of hate are only a passing infatuation. So my bitter joke provokes not even a smile in the audience.
I have already crossed the Rubicon, so why not dig deeper? ‘Believe it or not, whatever happened to Turkey is coming towards you. This political insanity is a global phenomenon. So actually, what can I do for you?”
‘’But the resonance is urgent and clear in How to Lose a Country: the 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship. This is because this work makes the case for the seriousness of politics, for the virtue of maintaining a state.
The author argues of the risks of reducing politics to entertainment. Performance cannot cope with the complexities of political choice.
“How long can we sugarcoat the nitty-gritty of politics in order to draw the apolitical masses to the carnival? Are we afraid of the fact that the answer will probably divide the masses that we’ve only just lured to the party and strung along with carnival spirit?”
These questions are posed as she writes of how politics has assumed, at times, carnivalesque traits as politicians press their claims to a distracted audience.
This is the final moment. This book is a fierce mapping of the preceding stages of dissolution. It begins with the creation of populist movements.
This is just the beginning. Language must then be coarsened, critical opinion needs to be suppressed. The concept of objective truth must then be eroded, and with a verve that is typical of this book, Temelkuran writes that “The truth is no longer a deer on the king’s estate, to be killed only by those who sit on the throne”.
As Temelkuran concludes: “If we are not politically active or reactive, then the act of understanding turns into only the expression and exchange of emotional responses. Our reactions gradually retreat to become nothing more than a sad cabaret”.
Politics is not entertainment. Explaining, in political life, should not be the same as losing. Otherwise dangerous simplicities can run amok.
The Irish Times, Paschal Donohoe
“Ece Temelkuran dissects the process by which false and true national memories are created and why they are sustained. This is a book that transforms this ancient Armenian-Turkish dispute into a human drama.
’This is essential’ Margaret Atwood on Twitter
‘A stunning, sane and intimate chronicle of a world gone nuts. An urgent whisper in our ears about our modern dictators and their collaborators. Ece has looked them in the eye, and is now telling us we need talk’
Mohammed Hanif, Writer of “The Case of Exploding Mangoes”
‘Ece Temelkuran is a passionate authentic voice whose fearless stand against authoritarian incursion is inspiring. She writes with an urgent conviction that has never been more important than now’
‘An important, current and, most importantly, very readable book about the populist playbook and how it threatens to engulf us all’
‘In the tradition of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, Ece Temelkuran exquisitely dissects the origins of authoritarian populism, using the bitterly learned lessons of Turkey to warn England and America. Not stopping at critique, she offers defiant visions of how demagogues might be fought. A poetic, vital, harsh and ultimately hopeful book’
Molly Crabapple, author of Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun
‘Temelkuran, a treasure of a novelist, turns a nonfiction eye to the burning topic of today: populism. Vivid, visionary, terrifyingly familiar, How To Lose A Country is essential reading for everyone on planet Earth’
Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less
‘The opponents of authoritarian populist and nationalist regimes have often failed to foresee or effectively resist their rise until it was too late. This highly informed and original book is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the forces that are convulsing our world’